SYDNEY, Dec 11 (Reuters) - The South Pacific islands of Bougainville have overwhelmingly voted to be independent from Papua New Guinea, the referendum commission said on Wednesday, in a historic poll that will trigger separation negotiations between the two governments.
Almost 98% of the 181,067 votes cast backed independence in the non-binding poll that is part of a peace pact struck in the aftermath of a decade-long war between Bougainville's rebel fighters and PNG forces, which ended in 1998.
The referendum gave voters in the island cluster a choice between independence and greater autonomy. (Reporting by Jonathan Barrett in Sydney; Editin by Shri Navaratnam)
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